Thursday, July 7, 2016

The 9% Factor

Ken O’Brien

Congratulations Southbridge! The results are in.

You’ve officially given up on your town.

I can remember when a good friend of mine lost his race for school committee. At the time he got over 1,100 votes – and he lost.

In our most recent town election the winners got 900 votes or less.

Less than 10% of the town’s registered voters bothered to turn out to vote. 

Apathy has triumphed.


  1. It would help if we had a local newspaper.

  2. well look at that Mr. O' Brien......i completely agree with you. i was disgusted to find out that so many people sat on their thumbs rather than take 5 minutes out of their day and cast a vote. so many of my friends died to give everyone this right and it sickens me that they don't practice that right. you accused me of being a whiner yesterday.....that's your opinion, but atleast i vote (and have never missed a vote since the day i was eligible to do so) to voice my opinion. All those in town who do nothing but complain about every little thing but then sit at home on election day......your complaints are mute.

  3. I remember meeting a young woman in Southbridge who told me she didn't vote because it didn't seem to make a difference. She wanted clean, safe parks for her kids to play in and the town didn't seem interested in providing that. Government didn't work for her. Many people think government exists to perpetuate itself rather than serve the people. This breeds the anger that is fueling Trump's campaign. It used to infuriate me that people didn't vote but I think even if we had 100% turnout things would remain the same. The whole system needs a good cleaning to restore people's faith in it.

    1. Rich:
      The problem is that, once elected, councilors are not held responsible for their actions.

      Allow me to cite a couple of examples.

      You have almost the whole of the council on record as opposing the landfill. Yet none of them will require a candidate for the Board of Health to pledge their opposition to approving expansion of the landfill. That is the only way to guarantee an end to that expansion. In fact, they just approved a new member for the board without asking that question. In addition, that person was approved for a three year term rather than merely for the unexpired portion of the person she was replacing.

      Another example has to do with the property tax rate. They all claim that we must live within our means, but they do nothing but continue to approve expansion of the budget. At least Councilor Vecchia stopped this for one year. But our new town manager cited the expansion in the new budget as necessary precisely because of that action. If they really wanted to do something about taxes they would support my idea for a property tax underride. But then they’d have to make hard decisions on dealing with truly constrained resources.

      We have had a new Director of Economic Development for almost a year now. What have we gotten from there?

      I could give many more examples, but the bottom line is, “What do you mean when you say the system needs a good cleaning?”

      Until we have a system where someone runs for office by proposing meaningful ideas and policies no amount of cleaning is going to help. And until those people are held accountable for results the blame ultimately resides with the voters.

    2. In regard to the board of health, I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that the council was given a legal opinion that it would be illegal for them to ask a potential appointee to state their position on the landfill. The councillors work part time for no pay. They are extremely reliant on the administration to provide them with information on the issues presented to them. Some actually think their job is to support the town manager. And I guess this is what I mean by a good cleaning: much like the english parliament, a lot of power rests with the bureaucrats. Councilors, congressmen and presidents come and go but the people that do the day to day work remain. We've evolved a system that really doesn't work for us, it works for itself.

    3. I haven't heard any council member cite such a legal opinion. But, let's assume that the council had adopted the first charter review committee's recommendation for an elected BOH. Would a candidate for such a position be unable to state their opposition to expanding the landfill?

    4. Rich:
      One thing that would make a big difference in making government personnel more empathetic to the rest of us would be to eliminate the government pension system and force them to rely on private plans (e.g. 401K's etc.) and social security like the rest of us.

    5. I agree. The rationale for the pension benefit is that public sector employees are paid less than they would be in the private sector. The pensions are supposed to compensate for that. With wages stag net for 20+ years, it's hard to make the case that the public sector is paid less than the private sector these days. Also, the unfunded pension benefits owed to current employees are a big burden on future taxpayers living in Massachusetts.

    6. You are quite right. According to the town’s most recent bond offering “The total actuarial liability applicable to the entire system [Southbridge’s retirement plan] at January 1, 2014, was $67,505,108; the unfunded liability of the system was $33,179,035.
      In addition other post-employment benefits amounted to $47,599,891 based on the latest actuarial analysis completed July 1, 2013. “As of June 30, 2015, the balance in the OPEB Trust was $513,606.”

    7. These numbers are making me dizzy. Would a business with such financial liabilities be considered solvent?

      Maybe if we weigh the garbage going into our own landfill instead of trusting the operator to do it, we'd get the money that was promised so we can afford our town's bills?

      Trust but verify.

    8. Why do you think that there are virtually no companies that have employee pension plans anymore?


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